IT was great to speak at Scotland’s Housing Festival at the SEC in Glasgow last week. Not least, because it was an in-person event after two years of online meetings and conferences due to Covid-19.

My topic was “the right to a home”. Given where we are financially, that had to include the ability to afford a home.

Scotland has some of the most progressive housing rights – particularly in the field of homelessness – in the world. But rights are meaningless unless you can access and enforce them.

Thereafter, our system of local government and social housing has to have the physical infrastructure and public funding to realise those rights. Let’s consider the evidence in Scotland.

Over the last 30 years homeless applications to Scottish councils have fluctuated between 34,000 to 60,000 each year. We presently have more than 13,000 households in temporary homeless accommodation and 26,000 open homeless cases.

The 19th century Scottish essayist and philosopher, Thomas Carlyle, once said, “teach a parrot the terms supply and demand and you have an economist”.

You don’t have to be John Maynard Keynes to realise that we have a supply-side housing problem – and we’ve had it for some time.

Over the last couple of decades, the failure of our housing policy has been to believe the private sector can solve this.

Over the last 22 months in Glasgow, we’ve paid £17 million to private B&Bs to accommodate homeless people. Far more is spent in Edinburgh. We use B&Bs to house vulnerable and traumatised people.

Why do we do that? Why have we never built proper emergency temporary accommodation in the public or housing association sector? Likewise, why do many councils charge eye-watering rents for temporary homeless flats?

They have the power to levy the same rent as for Scottish secure tenancies, but they choose full cost recovery.

We can use taxpayers’ money to provide high quality emergency accommodation. That can be done either by the council itself, housing associations or charities.

We have a Scottish National Bank, why don’t we use that to build more new properties and borrow the capital?

The income stream from housing benefit will cover temporary accommodation costs and rents would cover permanent home costs.

Why do we have a poverty of ambition and apathy for innovation?

In 1967, Harold Wilson’s leadership as prime minister saw 400,000 new homes built in one year across the UK; roughly half for social rent and half for sale. That equates to more than 32,000 new homes in Scotland.

Consider the Scottish Government’s current housing supply 10-year target for 2022/32 – 110,000 affordable homes, with 70% for rent and the balance for purchase. That’s 11,000 new homes each year. Is that enough to meet our demand for homes?

The economist John Kay notes that over the past century, population growth in the UK has averaged a little less than 0.5% a year but has risen more recently with migration.

Average household sizes have become smaller with people leaving home earlier and older people living longer. Allowance has to be made for replacing older properties no longer fit for occupancy.

Taking these factors into account, Kay estimates that housing supply should rise by 1% a year in the UK: that means we need about 300,000 houses each year to meet demand. That would require 24,300 new homes annually for Scotland, yet we’re planning for less than half of that.

Three weeks ago, the Court of Session – Scotland’s highest civil court – held that local authorities were under an absolute legal obligation to provide accommodation suitable for occupation by a homeless household.

Last week in X v Glasgow City Council the court granted final decree including a declarator the council had acted unlawfully and ultra vires of the 2014 Unsuitable Accommodation Order. The council has now lodged an appeal to the Inner House of the Court of Session.

If you create housing rights for people, they need to be properly resourced and funded. I’m not allocating fault here – local government has been systematically underfunded year on year – this is equally the responsibility of government and our Parliament in Holyrood.

We need to do two things. First, introduce an emergency rent freeze for 12 to 18 months in the private rented sector given the cost-of-living crisis. Second, rapidly expand our building programme for public and social housing with guarantees to safeguard the existing assets of social landlords in taking on such projects.

Keynesian economics teaches us if we increase the supply-side of social housing the demand for private rented accommodation will reduce as would out-of-control rents.

If we did that, the legal right to a proper home would become a reality for thousands of households in Scotland.